Consumer utilities

Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein writes about my ideas on utility computing in today’s edition. He notes:

It was only 20 years ago when everyone was sure that computing would become increasingly decentralized – out with the old mainframe and in with the personal computer, which would become ever more powerful with each generation of computer chip. Now, however, the swing to centralization is driven by the new economics of the Internet and dirt-cheap communication, and technological advances that make it easier for different programs and operating systems to work with each other and allow large numbers of servers and disk drives to effectively act as one big computer.

It’s interesting to watch how discussions of the utility computing model are broadening to a general audience. When I was writing my MIT Sloan Management Review article The End of Corporate Computing about a year ago (Pearlstein focuses on that piece), I assumed that discussions of utility computing would mainly concentrate on its business applications and that interest in consumer applications would develop more slowly. Since then, though, the hype about Web 2.0 (which is in one sense a code word for utility computing on the consumer side) has overturned that assumption. At the moment it’s the central services provided to the general marketplace by Google, Yahoo, Six Apart et al. that are shaping our understanding of and our conversations about the utility model, even more so than the purely business applications.

The consumer side also provides, at the moment, the greatest insights into how centralization (e.g., iTunes Music Store) and decentralization (e.g., iPod) can happen simultaneously and symbiotically.